Draft Updates to the Colorado Water Plan
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Draft Updates to the Colorado Water Plan

Brownstein Client Alert, August 17, 2022

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) recently released a draft updated Colorado Water Plan to be finalized in early 2023 (Draft Plan). The Draft Plan continues to project a water supply gap resulting from hotter and drier climate conditions and rapid population growth. It is open for public comment until Sept. 30, 2022. The Draft Plan would benefit from stakeholder and interested party input on concepts and specific projects that could help to address the growing water supply gap.

Since the Colorado Water Plan was first released in 2015, it has served as a broad blueprint for CWCB actions and support for voluntary stakeholder projects that address challenges and priorities identified in the plan. The Draft Plan seeks to address gaps in the 2015 plan by incorporating improved data and analysis of past projects. It incorporates more recent data and analysis, outlines four broad action areas, and identifies specific suggested partner and agency actions.1 Presently, the Draft Plan categorizes water priorities into four major action areas:

  • Vibrant Communities – Urban planning must leverage water-conscious landscapes that prioritize both attractive community development and a thriving economy.

  • Robust Agriculture – Innovations are needed to sustain irrigated agriculture, stretch available water supplies, increase resiliency and enhance local food production.

  • Thriving Watersheds – Communities must embrace a stewardship ethic to support agriculture, promote downstream communities, drive tourism and enhance overall ecosystem function.

  • Resilient Planning – Localized water roadmaps are needed to identify acute and chronic water supply risks, integrate inclusive planning strategies, and allow Colorado communities to be adaptive and resilient in the face of the challenges ahead.2

It contemplates a wide array of tools to address water issues, including: funding, policy and regulatory changes, water storage, public outreach and education, watershed planning, endangered and threatened species recovery programs, natural hazard planning, land and water use planning integration, water efficiency and conservation programs, water reuse, water conveyance infrastructure, collaborative water sharing agreements, watershed restoration and enhancement, and flow enhancement and maintenance.

While the Draft Plan improves upon the 2015 plan, it remains large on vision but short on specifics. For example, it identifies 50 “partner actions” eligible for grants and 50 “agency actions” that CWCB and supporting agencies will execute to advance the Water Plan, but many of the actions appear vague and difficult to plan for or administer (e.g., “resilient systems recognize social, ecological, and economic conditions.”). The Draft Plan is intended to set forth an adaptive management framework for future water planning and thus could benefit from stakeholder and interested party input on specific prior successes and detailed visions for the future. The Draft Plan does not suggest, for example, the specific steps that could be taken to reduce water consumption or better integrate water quantity and water quality, nor does it identify potential new approaches or incentives for water reuse. Perhaps aimed at adding greater detail to the plan, CWCB is currently requesting that the public share water conservation success stories and commit to taking actions consistent with the plan.

Submitting information about past successful projects (including lessons learned) and potential future projects is particularly important because projects consistent with the Water Plan are frequently prioritized for the CWCB Water Plan Grant Program. Through the grant program, stakeholders can apply for funding to support projects that make progress on the measurable objectives identified in the Draft Plan.3 Grants have been and will continue to be awarded across a broad range of projects, including water storage and supply, water sharing agreements, conservation and land use planning, engagement and innovation, agricultural projects, and watershed health and recreation projects. To be eligible for funding, applicants should articulate how their proposal (1) is collaborative, with multiple participants and/or benefits, (2) addresses a water gap, risk or need identified in the Water Plan, (3) advances sustainability vis-à-vis environmental and recreational interests, water conservation, water quality, economic and social impacts, maximizing beneficial use, partnerships with local government, and conformance with Colorado water law, and (4) is fiscally and technically feasible.

Interested parties may comment on the public draft by Sept. 30, 2022. Public comments can be submitted through engagecwcb.org.

1 Colo. Water Conservation Bd., Colorado Water Plan Draft (2022), https://cwcb.colorado.gov/colorado-water-plan (hereinafter “Draft CWP”).

2 Draft CWP Ch. 1–9.

3 Draft CWP Ch. 3-39, 3-41.

This document is intended to provide you with general information regarding draft updates to the Colorado Water Plan. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about the contents of this document or if you need legal advice as to an issue, please contact the attorneys listed or your regular Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP attorney. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions. The information in this article is accurate as of the publication date. Because the law in this area is changing rapidly, and insights are not automatically updated, continued accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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